Last week, Slate magazine’s Dan Engber published a five-part series on animal research, extensively treating the dog-napping scandal that led Congress to pass the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act in 1966, and going on to consider its continuing implications.
Engber’s was a fascinating historical series, placing former HSUS investigators Frank McMahon, Dale Hylton, and Dec Hogan at the heart of the five-year investigation of dog dealing that brought the mistreatment of animals taken and transported for research to light in the mid-1960s. Together, along with Fay Brisk, Christine Stevens, Ann Free, and other reformers, they drew back the curtain behind which a network of animal dealers supplied hundreds of thousands of dogs, many illegally acquired and housed and transported in terrible conditions, to laboratories around the country. And then of course, there were the painful, and often terminal, experiments themselves, which compounded the misery inflicted on the dogs.
Indeed, compelling issues like this were what gave rise to The HSUS in the first place. The founders had a vision for an organization that would take on the large-scale national cruelties that local humane societies had neither the reach nor the resources to confront. It's still the type of work we are doing today.
© LIFE/Stan Wayman
A 1966 LIFE exposé on dog dealers added to public scorn.
Not many today remember Pepper, a dog who went suddenly and tragically from cherished family pet to forgotten laboratory animal, and died in a New York hospital while the Lakavage family desperately searched for her. But the public outrage that ensued over Pepper’s disappearance and death, and that of other family pets, helped place scrutiny on the use of dogs in biomedical research.
One thing that makes Engber’s writing interesting is that he was a one-time animal researcher, who even went back to visit Clayton, a macaque on whom he had experimented some years ago, for the fifth and final article. Engber is right to emphasize that the decline of dog use in research, testing, and education has been dramatic, but to many animal advocates, today’s current estimate of 72,000 dogs used is still very troubling indeed. And as the case of C.C. Baird showed, the neglect and mistreatment of animals by contemporary dealers can still rival that of the 1960s.
I think that Engber is wrong to interpret more recent developments, like the passage of the Dole-Brown amendments to the Animal Welfare Act in 1985, as having settled much of the moral debate. While dogs are in less jeopardy of being used in experiments today, rodent use has soared, with attendant animal welfare issues, and the use of primates is also at unacceptably high levels, with an expense for animal experiments at $14 billion in taxpayer dollars per year from the National Institutes of Health alone. And just last week, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report criticizing the operations of Class B dealers.
And, as our recent investigation at the New Iberia Research Center demonstrates, many researchers using these tax dollars are not complying with the basic standards of the Animal Welfare Act. Engber reported that Clayton is living alone in a cage in the same room after eight years, with a replaying of "The Lion King" as his primary source of stimulation—an unscientific and embarrassingly weak attempt to comply with the law that requires that institutions pay attention to the “psychological well-being of primates.” We need more sunlight into these labs, and researchers and their institutions need to get serious about reforms—or animal advocates will be forced to continue to expose their failures and demand more aggressive action from lawmakers and regulators.